The Big Kaminsky

March 6th, 2015 sendarama Posted in college basketball No Comments »

Frank Kaminsky, the do-it-all 7′, 242 lb. senior center on 6th ranked Wisconsin, averaged three ppg as a freshman and sophomore on 8.9 minutes of playing time. As a junior, Frank dramatically raised his game and averaged 14 points and six rebounds as the cornerstone of the Final Four bound Badgers. As a senior, “He’s the best player in the country,” said Tom Izzo after The Big Kaminsky torched Izzo’s Spartans for 31 points on senior day in Madison last Sunday.

If ever there was an argument for a young college player who’s a pro prospect to spend an extra year or two in school to refine/develop his skills, it is Frank Kaminsky. In the course of four years, Kaminsky transformed himself from an awkward, skinny bench player to a multi-faceted, dominating big man. His father referred to him as a “goof who had to find his own way.” Now, far removed from his goofy days, he’s a certain first team All-American at center and the likely Player of the Year. Kaminsky is the only major conference player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and FG percentage. He shoots 75% from the charity line and over 40% from afar. What’s left?

Jerian Grant of Notre Dame and Rakeem Christmas of Syracuse also broke out in their last year of eligibility. Grant was suspended for the second half of last season, and the Irish plunged to 15-17 without him. The episode left a bad taste, and Grant, a freshman redshirt, returned to ND for his fourth year on the roster and fifth year in college. The extra seasoning was helpful. Grant is the unquestioned leader of the 25-5 Irish, and will be a top five pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

Christmas’s senior year leap was even more pronounced. After averaging 2.8, 5.1, and 5.8 pts/game, respectively, in three years as a starter in a star-studded line-up, the 6’9″, 250 lb Christmas became the go-to guy on a Syracuse squad that was bedeviled by injuries (DaJuan Coleman, Chris McCullough) and the premature defections to the NBA of Tyler Ennis and Jerian Grant’s younger brother, Jeriam. With renewed confidence and a jump hook to die for, Christmas is among the ACC leaders in scoring and rebounding.

But for every Kaminsky, Grant or Christmas, there are ten knuckleheads who left college early and are now buried on an NBA bench, laboring in the D league, or playing abroad. Jeriam Grant and Ennis certainly would have benefited from another year of college, and whatever happened to Derrick Williams?

So it’s no surprise that today’s college game is bereft of household names. The average fan must scramble to name even five collegiate stars, let alone an all-american or all- conference team. Fan identification is one of the biggest casualties of the one-and-done rule, which should be changed to a two-year college commitment. Still, the basketball purist can find solace, and familiarity, in the ever-increasing number of squads who are relying on third and fourth year players to fuel championship runs. Kaminsky’s Wisconsin and veteran-studded Virginia are well-equipped to challenge Kentucky for this year’s NCAA crown.

Frank Kaminsky using the left hand against Michigan State Sunday

Kaminsky evokes a bygone age. His looks and skill set are remindful of some great white players out of the past. In facial appearance and with the push shot, he conjures up Dolph Schayes. His all-round game and ubiquitous presence are reminiscent of Rick Barry. As a passer from the high or low post, he looks like Bill Walton.

But there’s nothing old-fashioned in the multiple ways he fills up a stat sheet. Like Dirk Nowitzki, Kaminsky can shoot from mid-range or deep and can finish at the rim with either hand. As a slasher, he’s Keith Van Horn. Add it up, though, and the sum total of his moves is pure Frank Kaminsky.

Kaminsky is in constant motion on the court. At the beginning of a possession, he’ll set a pick, then he’ll slide to the top of the foul line where he can receive a pass and become the point center. From there, he can hit the cutter, shoot, or drive to the hoop for an awkward, but highly effective 5-footer. There is no wasted movement. Hardly a Wisconsin basket occurs without some involvement by Kaminsky.

And Kaminsky has a wonderful supporting cast. The Badgers lack the height and muscle of Kentucky, but they are big enough, smart enough, and deep enough to give the Wildcats a struggle. Wisconsin leads the nation in offensive efficiency (points/possession), in fewest fouls committed (12/game), in fewest turnovers, and in most foul shots made relative to their opponent. Defensively, they relinquish only 56 ppg and enjoy a margin of victory of 15 pts/game in the tough Big Ten. “We’ve got five guys that can score on the court, and we’re unselfish,” noted second-best player Sam Decker.

But despite the Badgers’ balance and Final Four experience, it all comes down to Kaminsky. In their one outing this year without him, when Kaminsky was sidelined with concussion symptoms, Wisconsin lost 62-67 to lowly Rutgers.

It’s not clear how well Kaminsky’s skills translate to the NBA, where he lacks the girth to play center and may not be quick enough to guard some of the mobile power 4′s. But as a college player, he’s the nuts.

He’s The Big Kaminsky.

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On Any Given Thursday

March 18th, 2014 sendarama Posted in college basketball No Comments »

Let’s play the word game.

The NFL coined it, but college basketball best exemplifies it.

It’s what you got when 6-19 Boston College upends 25-0 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, when lowly Penn State beats Ohio State twice, and when Providence beats Creighton in the Big East conference tournament final seven days after being crushed by the Blue Jays.

It’s in the air when 16-0 Wisconsin and 15-0 Ohio State both lose five of six in Big Ten play before regrouping to land NCAA bids, and when Baylor and Oklahoma State fall to 2-8 and 4-9, respectively, in conference, before making late season surges.

The NFL mandated it, by its inverted draft system and by biased scheduling, but in the college game, it just came naturally.

During NCAA bracket time, which is right now, it’s the word on everybody’s lips. It’s the “P” word. It’s PARITY. You can’t just rely on chalk when completing your grid. You may actually have to know something.

In this year’s bracket, you can make the argument that the three seeds are better than the two seeds and that two of the four seeds – Louisville and Michigan State – have a better chance to win the tournament than three of the one seeds (Florida excluded). Curiously, the NCAA selection committee has underseeded several teams (New Mexico, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Michigan State) and overseeded others (Creighton, UMass, St. Louis).

In the old days, before conference re-alignment, a traditional basketball power in a Big Six conference could win half its games in conference play and be assured of an NCAA bid. Now, because of uneven scheduling in the re-aligned super conferences, one man’s 12-6 may be no more impressive than another’s 9-9. Virginia, for instance, played Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, and Syracuse only once each while fattening up twice on Maryland, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Florida State. The inequality of conference scheduling has forced the NCAA selection committee to place greater weight on other factors – strength of schedule, wins against top 50 opponents, and so-called “bad losses” to teams out of the top 100.

But the selection committee was not consistent in weighing these factors and in balancing recent performance versus year-long body of work. Despite Louisville’s paucity of top 50 wins, how could the committee ignore that it was steamrollering recent opponents? Ditto for resurgent Michigan State, which is healthy for the first time all season and dominated the Big Ten tourney. By way of cop-out, selection committee chairman Ron Wellman cited the “paper-thin” differences involved in seeding teams.

Just six years ago, in 2008, all four number one seeds made it to the Final Four. Now, you can’t tell a number one seed from a four seed. Where did all this parity come from?

Several factors have contributed to the leveling of the playing field in Division 1, notwithstanding the hogging of top freshman prospects by Kentucky and Kansas.

The pool of available talent has expanded. Teams are recruiting outside of the United States. Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, Michigan’s Nick Stauskas, and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins all played high school ball in Canada; and New Mexico’s aspiring Lobos feature two Australians in their starting lineup.

Further, liberalization of the transfer rule has allowed players to more freely change teams. At least twenty transfers are playing major roles for NCAA-bound teams , including Arizona ‘s T.J. McConnell, Duke’s Rodney Hood, San Diego State’s Xavier Thames, and Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane.

DeAndre Kane celebrates Cyclone’s Big 12 Tournament Win

Players who stay are improving during their career. Notwithstanding Kentucky’s success in 2012 with one-and-dones Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd -Gilchrist, and Marcus Teague, coaches are coming to realize that bringing in five or six star recruits is not the formula to win championships. A blend of returning veterans is required to be successful. Of the sixteen top-seeded teams, only Arizona and Kansas start more than one freshman.

When Kentucky won in 2012, it relied heavily on the contributions of returning lettermen Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, and Doron Lamb. Starting four or five freshmen the past two years, Kentucky has played erratically and immaturely, losing 22 games. Barring a Wildcat run in this year’s tournament, the John Calipari model has been discredited. The feeling now is that coaches who can maintain continuity in their program have the advantage of fielding wiser, stronger players than high turnover teams in pursuit of the top recruits.

Another big equalizer has been the increasing importance of the three-point shot. A weaker team trailing for the entire game by 10-12 points can narrow the gap quickly by making a few three-balls, as Boston College so notably did against Syracuse. To succeed today, a college team must shoot the three, make the three, and defend the three better than its opponent. Duke and Creighton are living off the three pointer.

Conference play is so grueling, said former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, that among the toughest tasks in sports is to win a road game in conference in February. The intensity is heightened during the conference tournaments where teams are meeting for the second or third time in the season, sometimes only a week apart. Teams know each other. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” said Emerson, but in addition, it allows teams to formulate a new defensive approach for the re-match. This makes for even more parity.

Thus, Providence was able to better contain Creighton’s 3-point shooting and Kentucky, in its third try, was able to push Florida to the buzzer in the SEC championship.

The most competitive of the conference tournaments was the Big Twelve’s. It was parity on steroids. Seven of the eight teams in the quarterfinal round made the NCAA tournament. During the regular season, these teams beat each other up. Only Kansas lost less than six games in conference play. Iowa State, the conference tournament winner, was 15-0 outside the conference, and 11-7 in it. After enduring the rigors of conference play, Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and even Baylor are capable of making protracted runs in the NCAA tournament.

Number one seeds Florida and Arizona have relatively clear paths to the Final Four, particularly if Kansas’ center prodigy Joel Embiid does not return at full strength from a back injury for the round of eight match with the Gators; but Louisville and Michigan State pose huge obstacles to Wichita State and Virginia progressing beyond the round of sixteen. The pundits are almost uniform in the belief that these upstart number one seeds will fall early to the number fours with the big resumes.

But the Shockers and the Cavaliers did not earn their high ranking by guile and good fortune alone. Both are in the top five of the respected Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings.

“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect,” wrote Oscar Wilde.

In the topsy-turvy world of bracket completion, it would be wise to heed the words of the Old Aesthete.

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Syracuse-Duke Demands an Encore

February 6th, 2014 sendarama Posted in college basketball No Comments »

There’s no proof that Punxsutawney Phil is a college basketball fan. But after dozing through Sunday’s Superbowl snorefest on Groundhog Day, on the heels of Syracuse’s heart-rending 91-89 OT victory over Duke Saturday night at the Carrier Dome, even a failed meteorologist with little knowledge of hoops would forecast six more weeks of intense college basketball leading to the start of the NCAA tournament on March 18th.

The build-up to the Super Bowl eclipsed interest in Syracuse-Duke. Many a sports fan with an inkling that Duke would be coming to Syracuse February 1st for their first-ever ACC meeting failed to block out the 6:30 start time with the wife and kids or simply forgot about it…… and came to regret it. Because long after the name of Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith (who?) is forgotten, this game will be remembered and recounted.

Well before the first tip, there was a sense of the enormity of the event. The opposing coaches – Mike Kryzyzewski and Jim Boeheim – were one, two in NCAA victories all time, 974 and 940, respectively. Though they had met twice before in pre-season tournaments, this was the first regularly scheduled game between the coaches. It would be Syracuse’s signature 2-3 zone defense against Duke’s equally suffocating man-to-man.

The Carrier Dome had been sold out for months. A record crowd for basketball of more than 36,000 was expected. Syracuse, number two in the nation, in its first year in the Atlantic Coast conference, had won 21 straight to start the season, including 7-0 in conference play. Duke, after a slow start, was back to being Duke.

When the defections of Syracuse and Pitt from the Big East to the ACC were first announced in September, 2011, followed by the departures of Notre Dame and Louisville, the predominant reactions were loathing, disgust, and sadness over the dismembering of the Big East. For the sake of cash, historic rivalries honed over the past 35 years were being trashed. The annual Big East tournament, one of college basketball’s great shows, would be diminished. Didn’t anybody remember the epic battles between Syracuse and Georgetown? How about some respect for the conference which produced eleven NCAA teams as recently as 2011?

But after Saturday night, any outcry over the emasculation of the Big East is likely to be muffled. Because as good as the Big East was – and it was very good – no regular season Big East encounter ever produced the drama of Saturday night. “There’s never been one as good as this one,” said Boeheim. If an expanded ACC can produce regular season games like this, it can’t be all bad.

On the way to their classic encounter, both Syracuse and Duke underwent growing pains. Syracuse needed to replace early departer Michael Carter-Williams at point guard, and Duke was experimenting with a new, albeit incredibly talented, front court. After uncharacteristic losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, the Blue Devils plunged to no. 17 in the national ratings.

Appropriately, Pitt served as an appetizer for both teams in advance of Saturday night’s showdown. On January 18th , Syracuse bested the Panthers in a bruising affair which was reminiscent of their Big East wars. You can transplant northern folk to Tobacco Road, but you can’t take the Big East out of Pitt-Syracuse. The Panthers dominated the offensive glass 16-4, outscoring the Orange 19-2 on second-chance points, but the game was in play until the final moments, when Carter-Williams’ replacement, freshman Tyler Ennis, took charge.

Ennis directs traffic against Duke

Exactly 52 weeks after The Hyphenator catapulted to national prominence with a virtuoso performance against then no. 1 Louisville, punctuated by a steal and thunderous driving dunk to provide the winning margin, Ennis calmly weaved his way through the Pittsburgh traffic for two layups, including a lefty floater with 30.6 seconds left which clinched the victory. Twelve of his sixteen points came in the second half.

“He made some of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time,” said Boeheim of Ennis after the Pitt game. “He has a knack for getting to the basket that’s about as good as anybody I’ve ever seen.” That’s tall praise considering that Boeheim has played with or coached Dave Bing, Pearl Washington, and Carmelo Anthony. “He’s Fred Astaire in sneakers,” said Bill Raftery.

Ennis has filled the vacancy created by the flamboyant Carter-Williams with a calmness and stability unfamiliar to Orange fans. Despite its success over the years, Syracuse has traditionally been turnover prone and erratic at the foul line. Carter-Williams himself was a high-risk player. Big leads often melted into nailbiters, or shocking losses. But with Ennis at the helm, late leads are like money in a safe deposit box. Ennis avoids turnovers (4:1 assist-turnover ratio), makes his foul shots (5-6 against Pitt, 8-8 against Duke), and shoots to a high percentage for a point guard (43.6%). He is as efficient as he is conservative.

Duke played its best game of the season at Pitt on Monday January 27th, pulling away for an 80-65 win. The plodding Panthers were overwhelmed by Duke’s 3-point marksmanship. Andre Dawkins, a fifth year senior returning after a year’s absence, led the way with 6 of 7 from beyond the arc.

The Blue Devils’ low national ranking belied their rapid improvement over the past three weeks and the emergence of freshman Jabari Parker, transfer Rodney Hood (Mississippi State), and sophomore Amile Jefferson to form an uber-talented front line. Armed with a quartet of sharpshooters in the back court, Duke was equipped to provide Syracuse its toughest test. And that it did. Despite the disappointing loss, they have the goods to make another run at a national title. All Duke lacks is a big body to protect the rim.

From the get-go, the Game lived up to its billing. Syracuse’s zone and shot blocking ability gave Duke fits. The Devils kept pace with their devastating 3-point shooting. Syracuse exploited its size advantage down low, and put Duke in early foul trouble. The Orange made their first 11 from the charity stripe and led 38-35 at the half.

Everyone played well. For Syracuse, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant had career highs. Center Rakeem Christmas had a personal best six blocks and ten rebounds. Ennis was his flawless self. Duke had a season best fifteen 3-pointers out of 32 attempts. Parker, Hood, and Jefferson were superb. Tyler Thornton rescued Duke at the 6-minute mark with three 3-pointers in less than two minutes to erase a 7-point Syracuse lead. Rasheed Sulaimon hit two 3-pointers in the final minute including a tying shot at the end of regulation.

In the overtime, with Parker and Jefferson having fouled out, Ennis took advantage of the size mismatch and fed Grant with three perfect entry passes for no-dribble dunks. Two late foul shots by Ennis provided the winning points. Syracuse didn’t beat Duke. It outlasted the Blue Devils.

Were this a boxing match, the public would be crying out for a re-match. But it need not waste its breath. Duke-Syracuse II is scheduled for February 22nd at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Tickets are available from $1069.00.

I have a feeling that wives and children will take a back seat to this one.

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‘Cuse Asserts Long Arm Jurisdiction

April 4th, 2013 sendarama Posted in college basketball No Comments »

First year law students taking civil procedure are soon introduced to the concept of long arm jurisdiction. This is the doctrine under which a plaintiff in his home state can sue and serve a defendant residing in another state for a cause of action arising in or with sufficient contacts with the home state.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is not a law school professor (though he looks like one); but just as the Courts have expanded their reach against out of state defendants, Boeheim has recruited tall, lean, and long-armed defenders to extend the reach and effectiveness of his 2-3 zone. The 2-3 has been the Orange’s trademark defensive tactic for most of Boeheim’s 30 year reign as ‘Cuse coach, but never has it been so smothering, suffocating, and stifling (pick your adjective) as in the just-concluded NCAA East Regionals at Verizon Center.

Indeed, the Orange defense performed at historic levels during ‘Cuse’s four-game run to the final quartet. Syracuse averaged 6.5 blocks and 10.8 steals while forcing opponents into 29% fg% and 15% from 3-point land. It held Montana (34), Indiana (50), and Marquette (39) to season low point totals. Against Indiana, one of the nations’s most skillful offenses (78.5 ppg), the Orange blocked 10 shots and forced 19 turnovers. Marquette could get nothing going en route to a record low for a team in an NCAA regional final since the shot clock was introduced in 1986.

Through four games, Syracuse has forced more turnovers than it has allowed field goals.

When you struggle to get your shot off, and are frequently blocked or stripped, you’re going to get beaten like a drum. “We couldn’t get one to drop from up close, We couldn’t get one to drop from outside,” said Marquette’s Jamil Wilson. That about sums it up.

College coaches normally employ the zone to cope with bigger, stronger opponents with whom they do not match up man-to-man. But for Boeheim, it is the weapon of choice. And now all the elements are in place. “We’re very long, and we’re very active,” said Boeheim, and “we can be hard to score on.”

At the top of the zone are 6-6 Michael Carter-Williams and 6-5 Brandon Triche. Carter-Williams has a baby face, arms like an octopus, and the guile of a cat burglar. He is among the nation’s leaders in steals, assists, and turnovers. During the regular season, his brilliance was often undermined by ill-timed forays to the hoop, a sub-40 shooting percentage, and sub-30 accuracy from 3-point land. But in the tournament, he has reduced his turnovers and shot the rock from both distances at just under 50%. He is capable of providing highlight reels on the dish or on the dunk.

Triche is a rarity at his position – a four-year starter, first as a point guard and now as a shooting guard. He’s started more games (146) than any Syracuse player. His uncle, Howard Triche, played for Syracuse in the late 80′s and Brandon looks and plays like his uncle. Steady but not spectacular, with the same bushy hair. Most of the time, MCW and Triche tower over their opponents at guard. Against Indiana, they overwhelmed 5-10 Yogi Ferrell and 6′ Jordan Hulls. It was more of the same against Marquette, which started the smallish Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan in the backcourt. “They cover ground really good,” said Blue.

Yogi Ferrell trapped by Syracuse zone.

The back end of the zone is manned by C.J. Fair and James Southerland. Both are in the Syracuse mold – 6-8, 215 – with near 7′ wing spans and the body fat of a parakeet. Fair is Syracuse’s most talented offensive player. A lefty, he can score on drives, dinks, finger rolls, and jumpers. Southerland can kill you with the 3-ball. At center is either Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita. Syracuse runs no offense for either, but they are effective at protecting the basket. The first sub is Jerami Grant, 6-8, 205, with arms from here to there.

When the Syracuse zone is on all cylinders, you cannot beat it off the dribble, and you cannot beat it side-to-side. One theory, employed successfully by Georgetown in its dismantlings of Syracuse 2/23/13 and in the Big East regular season finale at Verizon Center 3/2/13, is to flash a versatile, good-shooting big man to the area between the top of the circle and the foul line where he can turn and shoot or kick it back for an open three. Georgetown picked Syracuse’s zone apart. But not every team has Otto Porter to play that role.

Anyone who saw Syracuse on March 2 has to be shocked at the turnaround. Three weeks to the day after they were held to 39 against Georgetown, they held Marquette to the same number on the same floor in the regional finals. Even for Team Turmoil, the reversal of fortune is startling.

Nobody accumulates talent like Syracuse, and nobody loses more of it to academic suspensions and/or the NBA. Last year’s Fab Melo affair is a case in point. Had the 7″ shot-blocking Melo been available, the Orange might have won the national championship a year ago. Instead, Melo couldn’t find his way to class, was suspended, and then bolted to the NBA. He plays now for the Maine Red Claws in the Developmental League.

Southerland missed several games this season on academic probation. In recent years, Dion Waiters, Wes Johnson, Donte Green, and Jonny Flynn left school just when they were getting started. The Bernie Fein episode is still an open wound, and just last week it was revealed that Syracuse is being investigated by the NCAA for serious violations in its basketball program.

But there are no character flaws in the current group. Carter-Williams and Triche, in particular, have been exemplary teammates and great interviews. And Syracuse takes a full head of steam into Saturday’s semi-final match with Michigan, which has endured a season of ups and downs similar to Syracuse’s. Both teams were ranked in the top five early – Michigan briefly at number one – and suffered a string of late season losses against tough conference opponents which reduced them to four seeds in the tournament. This will be the first time two four seeds have met in the Final Four.

More importantly, Michigan is the most efficient offensive team in the country, according to basketball savant Ken Pomeroy’s rating system, and has the ingredients to counter the Syracuse zone – the nation’s best point guard (Trey Burke), the nation’s best young center in freshman Mitch McGary, and a sharpshooter in freshman Nick Stauskas. Burke has been phenomenal all season, but McGary’s late-season surge has changed the character of the team.

Through the first 33 games of the season, McGary averaged 6.5 points and 6 rebounds. In the last four, he weighed in at 14 and 11.5, including 25 and 14 against Kansas in the Sweet 16. His 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 steals spurred the Wolverines in their rout of Florida on Sunday. Michigan has its Otto Porter.

Stauskas, a freshman from Canada, also broke out against Florida. He became the first player in tournament history to go six for six from 3-point land. Filling out the starting five are descendants of NBA royalty – Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. They have not dishonored the family name.

Syracuse’s offense relies in significant part on fast breaks triggered by turnovers. They are not a good shooting team in the halfcourt. Where does that leave the Orange if they cannot turn Trey Burke over?

Neither team can afford foul trouble. Michigan cannot survive if McGary is forced to the bench, and Syracuse needs to get full contributions from Fair and Southerland, including at least four or five 3-balls. In a close game, Syracuse’s difficulties from the foul line could be problematic.

If Michigan coach John Beilein solves the Syracuse zone, it will be a case of first impression. In eleven previous tries against the Orange while coaching West Virginia, Beilein is winless.

But the guess here is that Beilein’s losing skein ends, and that Michigan advances to the finals against the winner of Louisville-Wichita State.

Even long arm jurisdiction has its limits.

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Boom Times for Court Stormers/ Gonzaga Creeps Up

March 1st, 2013 sendarama Posted in college basketball No Comments »

Mike Krzyzewski has had enough.

Normally imperturbable Coach K lashed out at the security threat posed by court stormers after Duke’s loss last night at Virginia. He’s concerned that players might be injured by the onrushings which have become fashionable this year when the home team registers a big upset.

There’s no question that Krzyzewski has standing to raise the issue. All four Duke losses this year – at Miami, at Maryland, at NC State, and at Virginia- have been capped by a court storm.

Court storming is the new standing ovation.

The practice dates back to the mid-nineties, but the record for court storms in a month was surely shattered in the February just concluded. The number one rated team has lost eight times this season in ten weeks. There have been nineteen cases of top five rated teams losing to teams outside the top 25 this season, and fifteen of them were in February. Of the aforementioned upsets, thirteen were by heavy home underdogs playing as if on a crusade. You couldn’t get better ingredients for a court storm.

But I take objection to a court storm which is not warranted under the circumstances, as when Maryland, a slight underdog, nipped no. 14 NC State 51-50 in a sloppily-played game at Comcast Center in January. Virginia was actually favored over Duke last night. This could be why the Cavalier onslaught was slow in developing.

Rarely does a team storm and get stormed in the same season. Fans of the really good teams don’t storm, and bad teams in defeat don’t get stormed. Duke fans do not court storm when they beat NC State.

But when a team goes from downtrodden to powerhouse in the course of a season, as Miami has done, the tables can turn. Miami fans court stormed Duke at Coral Gables in January. Then, lowly Wake Forest blew them out at home last Saturday, and it was the Hurricanes who were trampled upon.

Before court storming becomes dangerous, steps should be taken to regulate the rampage. If this were cattle, we’d have skilled horsemen regulating traffic. Since Rowdy Yates is not available, we at least need security personnel to surround the losing team and usher it away from the festivities.

And before court storming becomes routine, minimum standards should be set to determine when a court storm is justified. Here’s a suggestion:

Court storming shall be allowed if any two (2) of the following five factors are present:

1. Home team is rated outside the top 25, defeated team is rated within the top five.
2. Home team is an underdog by five points or more.
3. Home team wins on buzzer shot.
4. Home team at bottom of conference defeats lst place foe.
5. Defeated team is arch-rival ranked in top 10.

The NCAA has invaded almost every other aspect of college athletes’ behavior, why shouldn’t it try to regulate court storming?

Terp fans gather after February 16 win over Duke.

Back to Krzyzewski, I suspect that there were other reasons for his post-game pique. He must have been concerned with Duke’s lack of fight against Virginia, which dominated the boards and Duke center Miles Plumlee. Lately, Plumlee has resembled a second team all-ACC center rather than a player of the year candidate. The slender Dukies were pushed around by Virginia yesterday and by Maryland two weeks ago.

While Duke , Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Kansas, and Florida have been banging heads with tough conference foes (each has three or more conference losses), Gonzaga has quietly won all of its conference games in the weak West Coast Conference and is poised to move up to the number one slot on Monday if (when) it beats Portland Saturday. Indiana having lost Tuesday at Minnesota, Gonzaga’s path to number one is wide open; and the Zags are likely to stay there for at least a few weeks if, as expected, they breeeze through the WCC tournament.

The Zags are good, but they’ve had the luxury of needing to gear up for only two or three conference games. If they were playing tough games twice a week, their record would be a lot spottier than 27-2.

Their strengths are that they are extremely well balanced with a strong, veteran front line and skilled guards. Each starter shoots 75% or better from the charity stripe. Their margin of victory is 18 ppg , the highest in the land.

And they may have the sleeper candidate for Player of the Year. 7’ Kelly Olynyk, who red-shirted last year after playing two years of varsity ball, averages 17.7/game, shoots 67% from the field, 80.3 from the stripe, 39.1 from 3-point land, is an excellent passer, and has rock-star looks.

The Zags remain suspect because of their weak conference and a history of flaming out in the NCAA’s. Since their break-out season in 1998-99, when they made the round of eight, they have appeared in the NCAA’s fourteen consecutive seasons, never getting beyond the Sweet Sixteen, and eleven times falling in the first or second round. It’s possible they could finish first in the nation and not get a number one seed.

In this most bizarre college basketball season, where no team stands out but fifteen to twenty have legitimate title aspirations, stranger things have happened.

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